Sunday, November 07, 2010

Phoenix Suns 118 Atlanta Hawks 114


Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
PHX 95
62.3 25.9
28.9 16.6
ATL 94 1.213 58.4

The first Atlanta Hawks loss of the season and the 118 Phoenix points which caused it had more to do with limitations inherent in the roster's construction than any tactical decisions Larry Drew made. Granted, starting the game with Jason Collins and then the second half with Josh Powell on the court made about as much sense as the fans booing Josh Childress but I suspect both had approximately as much impact on the game's outcome.

Yes, both Jamal Crawford and Zaza Pachulia are better basketball players than either Collins or Powell but, over the past seven seasons, Phoenix have amply demonstrated both their general offensive competence and a particular ability to exploit whatever matchups favor them. Regardless of which Atlanta player replaced Marvin Williams in the lineup, the Hawks would still have no guard capable slowing Steve Nash, Hedo Turkoglu would still be a difficult matchup on the perimeter for either Josh Smith or Al Horford, Phoenix would never put a player on the court who could not exploit being guarded byb Mike Bibby, and, should everything else fail, Phoenix would just make a concerted effort to attack Jamal Crawford.

So, in addition to bemoaning the failure to stop the opposition, a failure which admittedly could bedevil this team over the course of its next 75 games (but a failure exaggerated by the absence of Williams and, to a lesser extent on this particular dy, Mo Evans) it's incumbent upon us also to praise the Atlanta offense for its ability, also made more difficult due to the absence of Williams, nearly to match Phoenix's offense point for point and to put the game's outcome in doubt inside the final 10 seconds.

Joe Johnson had an excellent game. His 34 points led the Hawks. His 6 assists were key. The 7 rebounds (3 offensive) he grabbed were crucial. His single turnover was indicative of the cornerstone of his offensive value. Yet, Joe Johnson was clearly not the team's best offensive player. Al Horford scored 4 fewer points on 11 fewer field goal attempts (and 1 more free throw attempt) and had 5 assists of his own despite (who knows how many) fewer touches than Johnson.

That Horford was the best component of a great team* offensive performance was not even the most impressive aspect of his individual performance nor the most striking aspect of the team's performance. You see, Larry Drew asked Al Horford to guard Steve Nash in the second half and Horford did a respectable job. Yes, Joe Johnson started most possessions standing at the top of the key, heels on the three-point line with Nash in front of him, but once Nash got a ball-screen and Phoenix initiated its half-court offense, Horford switched onto Nash and had responsibility for the opposing offense's catalyst, one of the finest offensive players this sport has ever produced, for the remainder of the possession.

*Well, four-man team. In addition to aforementioned Horford and Johnson, Josh Smith scored 19 points on 10 shots (7-8 from the free throw line) while earning 4 assists and Mike Bibby scored 12 points on 8 shots.

Horford didn't shut down Nash. Let's not be ridiculous. Horford slowed Nash. From 9 points (on 4-6 shooting) and 7 assists in the first half to 6 points (on 3-5 shooting) and 8 assists** in the pre-intentional fouling portion of the second half. Horford consistently stayed in front of Nash and forced him away from the paint. That Nash can hit the step-back jumper and find teammates on the move from any angle is to his eternal credit. That Horford forced Nash to display the full array of his gifts in order to remain effective is amazing. Despite Nash's second-half efficiency, despite the loss, Horford's defensive performance was spectacular. Late this afternoon, Larry Drew essentially confirmed the long-held position of your author: Al Horford, at six-feet, ten-inches and 245 pounds, is Atlanta's best perimeter defender.

**Three of which came on passes that resulted in Jason Richardson shooting a jump shot over Mike Bibby and had little to do with on-the-ball defense on Nash.

Horford is also the team's best post defender, best rebounder, most efficient scorer, and has been, per on-court possession so far this season, the team's most prolific scorer. Had a team a spare $123.7 million laying around, they could conceivably use it to build around a player like that.

In the world in which we live, though, it's a fair to wonder whether or not Horford will be allowed to play 10 minutes in the first half of tomorrow night's game. Such are, for good and for ill, these Atlanta Hawks.


Lenymo said...

That last possession where Frye posted up Bibby was horrible. Credit to Phoenix for taking advantage of the mismatch but wow... Bibby is a liability. A good effort in the 2nd half but tomorrow night looks set to be a rough one against Orlando.

Lenymo said...

I also wonder if Horford on Nash is Drew's version of the "Nash Rule". LOLs.